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Further to my last post (and the council’s failure to answer my questions), here’s why Lutfur Rahman failed to attend the solemn Remembrance Sunday event in Tower Hill on Sunday:

Lutfur rahman, george gallowayHe was in Bradford for a “young people’s educational awards ceremony”. It was, according to Takki Sulaiman’s press office, a “longstanding commitment”.

But it actually took place on Saturday lunchtime: there are tweets from the event timed at 2pm that day.

Bradford is less than a four hour drive away from Tower Hamlets. I presume he stayed overnight in Bradford on Saturday rather than returning.

It’s his call, of course, but he does invite some pretty justifiable criticism with decisions like this.

The awards at the Shapla Community Hall were hosted by a Bangladeshi organisation called BEAP (Bangladesh Education Achievement Project).

From the video it seemed a reasonably small event, but clearly Lutfur is something of community leader in the wider Bengali community and not just east London. His audience would have been grateful for his attendance.

The video below is fascinating.

George Galloway is the warm-up act for the Tower Hamlets mayor and makes a speech defending him as some kind of ex-Labour/real Labour blood brother.

And at 7.20mins, you can see Lutfur arriving with his kitchen cabinet from Tower Hamlets, ie Cllr Gulam Robbani, Cllr Aminur Khan (Rabina Khan’s husband) and Cllr Maium Miah. If there are others, I’ve missed please let me know.

You then see Galloway embracing Lutfur. It seems Lutfur isn’t that bothered by Galloway, that he’s somewhat embarrassed by him.

They spend a few seconds posing for the cameras and Lutfur barely looks Galloway in the eye as George fawns over him. I was half-excpecting George to lap up some imaginary Lutfur milk.

It seems Galloway is now desperate for Lutfur’s approval. Is it Lutfur who has now become the Real Deal?

Here’s some of Galloway’s speech to the event:

Mayor Lutfur and me and Ken Livingstone have some things in common. One of them is that we were all expelled from New Labour for standing up for principles and standing up for real Labour values. We all three of us then defeated New Labour in election after election.

..I campaigned for a directly elected mayor in Tower Hamlets. We started the petition that created this position and I was proud to work with Mayor Lutfur in both of his successful elections. We should be proud of his victories and his mayoralty in east London.

The authority that he has built is a beacon throughout the country in educational and in other social and political achievements. There are no academies in Tower Hamlets…

I wish we in Bradford had a council like Lutfur Rahman has in Tower Hamlets.

What he has now been subjected to is nothing short of a racist attack. They hate Lutfur because he has proved that Bengalis can win elections and can carry out their promises made to the people.

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During my three years at the East London Advertiser, I spent a fair amount of time with George Galloway’s aides in the Respect party.

I’m fairly confident in saying that had the PwC report been written about the Labour administration in Tower Hamlets back then, they’d have milked it for all its worth.

They were as scathing about the then council leader in 2008, Lutfur Rahman, as they were about his predecessors, Denise Jones and Michael Keith. In particular, they disliked what they believed to be the whiff of cronyism…in both the awarding of grants and also the appointment of useful mates to political positions.

In fact, Respect’s decision to organise successful petition that heralded the directly elected mayoral system in 2009/10 was an attempt to end such a culture, they argued.

So it’ll be interesting to see if Galloway, or Glyn Robbins, the former chair of Tower Hamlets Respect, or John Rees, a founding father of the party, refer to any of this when they address the following rally the Water Lily centre in Mile End tomorrow tonight:

george galloway, lutfur rahman

Lutfur has sent this email to his Tower Hamlets first supporters:

Dear supporter,

You’ll probably have heard by now that Secretary of State Eric Pickles has ordered officials in to undermine local democracy in Tower Hamlets, and it’s local residents that are paying for it (sic). You also may have heard that despite Pickles’ decision to send in the attack dogs, the report he ordered found no fraud or corruption in Tower Hamlets. 

He’s seized on any flimsy excuse he can find to shut down the 37,395 voices that voted for Mayor Lutfur Rahman and for a council that stands up to the cuts and invests in education, affordable homes and our future. 
 
This is Pickles versus the people. And it’s up to all of us to stand up to him. 
 
Here’s some simple things you can do
 
– Sign the petition to stop the witch-hunt of Lutfur
 
– Join me at a rally with Ken Livingstone and other national leaders at the Waterlily, 69 Mile End Road on Weds 12th November at 6pm to discuss how we can stand up for democracy. (link to event page)
 
– Tweet and facebook your own opinions about all this under the hashtags #towerhamlets and #respectourvotes
 
– Get in touch with any ideas you have
 
Thank you so much for your help. We haven’t got big banks or corporate newspapers on our side, so every little thing you do really does count.
 
In solidarity, 
 
Tower Hamlets First

The petition they refer to is here, and at the time of writing has 675 votes.

Note its name: ‘Respect our democracy and treat councils equally!’ And note the Twitter hashtag supporters are being urged to use: #respectourvotes.

The word ‘respect’ is popping up a lot.

So of course Galloway won’t lash out at Lutfur for his policy and process failures: they’re merely “flimsy excuses”.

Lutfur is now a convenient “Pickles versus the People” general election tool. Convenient for Lutfur, too, of course: posing the bigger question acts as a smokescreen for the criticisms.

But that’s politics.

There’s even some talk among his supporters that Lutfur may call a mayoral by-election to re-establish his authority. I’m not convinced he would press that nuclear button and in any case, I’m not sure when he would press it.

The Election Court hearing is due to start in mid-late January and it could last until March. Even then, the verdict may be reserved for some weeks.

If he emerges from that victorious, I’m not sure why he’d want or need to hold a by-election (although he could emerge victorious but tainted and damaged).

Who knows what his priorities are.

Certainly, he didn’t prioritise Remembrance Sunday again this year.

He was again a no-show at the wreath-laying ceremony at Tower Hill on Sunday, when there were huge crowds in the area observing the ceramic poppy display in the Tower of London moat across the road.

Lutfur’s reserved seat next to the Deputy Lord Lieutenant of London, Commander John Ludgate, remained empty.

I asked the council’s press office for an explanation and this was their reply:

The Mayor was regrettably unable to attend the Merchant Navy Memorial Service on Sunday due to a long-standing commitment to attend an (sic) young people’s education awards ceremony outside London. In his absence the Mayor asked Mickey Ambrose, former footballer and Duke of Edinburgh Awards ambassador to represent him and lay a wreath on his behalf.

‪Mr Ambrose said: “I was honoured to be a part of such a moving service and pay my respects to the courageous men and women who have served our country.”

‪The Mayor attended a Remembrance Service on Friday at City Hall with other Mayors and Council leaders, and is looking forward to the Armistice Day event on Tuesday at the Town Hall. The Mayor will also host a reception for war veterans after the event.

Mickey Ambrose stood and lost as a Tower Hamlets First candidate in Bow East in May. Quite why Lutfur asked him to deputise and not any of his elected councillors is a mystery.

I also asked the council what this longstanding awards ceremony commitment was, when it actually took place and where it was held.

They’ve declined to reply.

Anybody know?

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I wrote this for last Sunday’s Express and the reaction has been very touching. Several people have suggested that although it’s not Tower Hamlets related I should publish it on my blog. (The modern photos are courtesy of Mike Gunnill.)

ON APRIL 10, 1918, 21 days into the great push by the Kaiser’s Imperial German Army, and seven months before the end of the hostilities, Private 26423 Edward Horsman Hatton, a brave member of the 8th Border Regiment based on the border of Belgium and France, became just another number of the First World War.

He was 40.

ted hatton portrait

Edward Hatton

It’s fair to say he wasn’t the most enthusiastic conscript when called up aged 38 in August 1916.

From Flixton, near Manchester, he was an educated man: a chartered company secretary and an accomplished photographer; officer material, undoubtedly.

He felt he was too old to fight, so too did his wife Amy.

And above all, he also had his “lil sweetheart” to look after, three-year-old Maimie: my grandmother.

But the honour of a British Empire stuck in the bloody mud of Belgium and France clearly had a far greater need.

What happened to her beloved father–she saw him only once more before arthritis reduced him from infantryman to stretcher-bearer cannon fodder–made her a pacifist for life.

The small leather-bound briefcase I found at the bottom of her wardrobe a few years before she died nine decades later was her treasure trove.

Packed inside, more than 100 beautiful pencil-written letters from the trenches to his wife, some from Amy to him, a few from him to Maimie…all delivered for future generations.

ted hatton letters

The box of beautiful faded yellow letters from Ted Hatton, and his wife Amy’s diary in the centre

And carefully wrapped within them, a tiny pocket diary of hope and despair kept by Amy in the agonising months he was reported missing in action.

“A very sacred little book,” my gran later wrote on its inside cover.

Together they provided a heartbreaking story that to us is quite extraordinary but which sadly would have been all too common at the time.

With Remembrance Sunday next week and the war’s centenary approaching next year, millions of other families should have similar tales to tell.

The records are all there for us to explore.

In my case, the letters revealed my great grandfather’s Army number and regiment name.

Those led me to the National Archives in Kew, south west London, and from there his regiment’s war diaries pointed me to his final fighting place.

Which is where I went not long before my gran died.

And this is how I discovered her dear Daddy’s name inscribed on a large memorial to those who went “missing” in that area.

When I showed her the photograph, she cried.

I took her daughter there this summer, my mum Christine.

She also cried.

ted jeory mother ted hatton

My mum and me at the Ploegsteert Memorial: Ted Hatton on the right

The area is Ploegsteert Wood, close to Messines in southern Belgium.

The squaddies nicknamed it Plug Street; it was where Winston Churchill served in 1916, and it was also where German and British soldiers held the famous Christmas Day truce football match in 1914.

A new visitor centre opens there on November 9.

The place is magical; peaceful and serene.

ploegsteert memorial

The Ploegsteert Memorial to the Missing in southern Belgium

Ted Hatton hated it.

It wasn’t just the war, it was the separation from family, the homesickness, the pining for wife and daughter.

ploegsteert 1918

The beginnings of the Royal Berkshire Military Cemetery at Ploegsteert in 1918

Yet his simple, elegant letters–they are truly beautiful to look at—also reveal the frustrations of family.

Amy was imploring him to apply for an officer’s commission, but he was worn out and he probably knew better.

Amy’s diary of guilt after his death is almost too painful to read.

The story, from Britain to France, then hell and heaven, is all there in 35,000 words of faded yellow notepaper.

ted-hatton-letters-ploegsteert ted jeory

So, just a few days before he sails for Le Havre in December 1916: “Well Kid I was before the Dr this morning & have been passed fit.

“Am sorry to say I have also been warned for a draft to France but don’t know the date on which I shall have to go, but expect it will be about Dec 16th.

“I think we are passing through our darkest days & there will be a happy time for us when all this nasty business is over.”

In reply, Amy tells him little Maimie “is always asking about you – she says ‘I want to see ‘me’ Daddy’.

“She says every night when I put her to bed, “Goodnight and God bless Daddy and bring him safe home.”

A few days later, he’s in France. “Don’t brood lovey, I may not go anywhere near the firing line, & if I do, I stand as good a chance as anyone else of coming through.

“Teach our little girlie to say her prayers for us & then we shall be alright.

“Remember always kiddie that I love you before anyone else & God knows that if I get the chance I shall endeavour to make you happy in the future.”

Two weeks after Christmas that year, he visited the trenches for the first time as part of a working party.

“I don’t know when I shall commence my career as a real fighting soldier, but expect it will be any day now,” he reported home.

“Don’t worry dear, I think I shall come through all right & we shall spend many happy days together.

PS Could do with a pair of socks if you could manage to get them.”

Some time later during a break from the trenches, he wrote: “We are still billeted in the usual airey barn & have to put up with all kinds of discomforts, such as rain coming through the roof, rats etc.

“I often wonder what it would be like to have dry & warm feet again. The weather here is abominable, snow, sleet, frost & rain ever since we came.

“However, I am fairly well so that is something to be thankful for.”

In September 1917, we glimpse the first tension with Amy: “Now as regards my application for a commission I have thought well over the matter and have come to the conclusion that I am better off in every way in my present position.

“You see, Kid, they want young men and I am not the man I was when I joined the Army.

“There is nothing seriously the matter with me, but you can well understand that nine months of the life out here has had some effect.”

Two months later: “Glad to say I am OK but longing to get back to you again. I do wish the Bosch would throw up the sponge and let us be happy once more.”

Then after a short special spell of leave at home in February 1918, and six weeks before his death, comes this terrible letter: “I shall never forget the parting. If there was a more miserable chap on earth at that time – well, I’m sorry for him.

“I felt, and am still feeling, heartbroken. God knows, Kid, I love you with all my heart and soul and am sorry for all the worry and anxiety your love for me is causing you. “However, dearest, I shall try to be as cheerful as I can and live in the hope that this parting won’t be for long and that we are enabled to make up for all the misery we are now experiencing by a long and happy future together.”

In March 1918, he writes this: “Now, my dear girl, whatever has put you in such a bad temper with me?

“I told you I had done my best to get my name put forward for a Commission and I told you the truth.

“As I tried to make clear to you when I was at home, it will be a very hard matter for a man of my age to get a recommendation as there are scores of younger and more active men after any vacancies that arise.

“I am no longer young as soldiers go and can’t at the present time keep up the pace; as a matter of fact, I have recently been made a stretcher bearer on that account.

“I am not ill but find I can’t run and jump as of old.

“As regards the future, if God spares me to come through this awful business, my one desire is to try and make you happy and that is about all I can say on the matter.

“Please try and think a little better of me and if I have not made you very happy, it has not been because I have not tried, but perhaps because I have not had the ability.”

This was his last letter.

How Amy must have felt.

Wracked with guilt, she turns to her diary and writes on July 7 1918: “Oh my husband, how I love you, how I have suffered.

“And I deserve it too. Tonight is one of my hopeful nights. How I have prayed to God to give me just one more chance simply to be your loving wife.

“God send you back to me, Ted sweetheart. How I long to tell you how much I love you and to feel your dear arms round me, and to hear the voice I love so well.

“What will the morning bring? Oh God grant it may be news of him.

“What are king and country to me if my husband has been sacrificed? Nothing, nothing, nothing.

“In life or death, my darling, I am yours forever and ever end ever.”

On Armistice Day, November 11, 1972, five years after Amy herself died, my gran once more picked up this little book and wrote this on the inside cover: “God grant they are now re-united.”

My family remembers them.

e hatton ploegsteert memorial

 

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